Tuesday, December 29, 2009

You Asked For It!

I had a few recommendations for things I should bake/cook and I have every single one of them! That's right, all three ;) Well, now, the remaining two. I tackled one yesterday and the general consensus seems to be that the experiment was a genius idea, and I'd be the last person to disagree.

When I mentioned to some friends of mine at IU that I was planning on picking up blogging again while I was home for winter break one of them got really excited, describing to me a cookie concoction he thought I should try. Oreos are, hands down, my favorite store bought cookie. Actually, they're really the only prepackaged I ever find myself jonesing for. So, when it was suggested that I attempt to encase entire Oreos in homemade cookie dough I was on board.

Peanut Butter Oreo Cookies

Peanut butter makes just about anything better and Oreos are no exception. I'm not going to lie, I've been caught in the kitchen far too many times digging into a Jiff jar with an Oreo in hand, but can you really blame me? Clearly if I was going to cover Oreos in cookie dough it needed to be peanut butter cookie dough.

Peanut Butter Oreo Cookies

I figured if this was going to work, big IF, I needed a really think cookie dough. Something that would hold it's shape and not melt away from an Oreo. I ended up picking a peanut butter cookie recipes off Smitten Kitchen, big surprise. My biggest concern, however, was that the Oreo would be chewy. A couple years ago, along with a few other friends, I tried a deep fried Oreo. I'm not much of a fan of fried food and Oreos didn't change my mind. The Oreo was chewy and Oreos should not be chewy, their crunch is half their identity! If my cookies ended with chewy Oreos I was not going to be a happy camper.

Peanut Butter Oreo Cookies

But Sally and I decided to give it a go and laid out a sheet full of cookie dough encased Oreos. Crossing our fingers and holding our breath, we popped them into the oven and anxiously waited to see what 12 minutes of baking time would do to them.

Peanut Butter Oreo Cookies

Turns out putting these in the oven is actually a brilliant idea. What isn't a brilliant idea is running into the refrigerator with the tray of cookies you just pulled from the oven. I killed a couple that went cascading to the floor... but the rest were laid out to cool, unharmed. Don't they look like ravioli? I think they look like giant raviolis. But they're not, they're actually delicious cookies. Check out the inside!

Peanut Butter Oreo Cookies

These were a hit. If you're as big of a sucker for a chocolate and peanut butter combo as I am, these are going to rock your socks. They're really easy, too :D If you follow the recipe for peanut butter cookies here: http://smittenkitchen.com/2007/12/peanut-butter-cookies/, then you've finished the hardest part. We left out the peanut butter chips and chocolate chips because they just didn't seem necessary, but I suppose if you want them, more power to you! Then we evenly covered each Oreo with the cookie dough and let them bake for 12 minutes. I highly recommend you let them cool before biting in. The ones that met the kitchen floor ended up being our taste testers and the Oreos were alarmingly soft when straight from the oven. If you let them cool though the combination of the crunchy Oreo and chewy peanut butter cookie is phenomenal :)

Like I said, I have plans to get to paella and fish stew, two other excellent recommendations, and hopefully I'll be able to before I have to ship back off to IU! In the meantime, if you have anything else to add to my to-make list let me know and I'll try to whip it up!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Make Like a Banana and Split!

I adore making birthday cakes. They are quite possibly my favorite thing to bake. Probably because they are so festive and fun and made to be everything that one person wants. When you make a birthday cake you should have only the birthday person in mind. If the birthday girl wants something chocolate, everyone's eating something chocolate. If the birthday boy wants an ice cream cake, everybody's going to have to be happy with an ice cream cake. Even if the birthday person would rather have a stack of pancakes with candles in it... then pancakes it is. I love that birthday cakes are personal, it makes them so much more special :)

Of course birthday cakes have been added to my ever growing list of things that are a thousand times better homemade so the Dairy Queen ice cream cakes that were once my birthday treat of choice have been replaced by my own sugar laden creations. I think this is the third year (maybe?) that I've made my own birthday cake, and being the perfectionist I am... I'd have it no other way ;) My stipulations for my own birthday cakes were usually
-It must contain chocolate
-It should probably have peanut butter in it
-It must primarily be chocolate
-It should be rich
-It must have large amounts of chocolate in it
This year, however, I kind of broke my pattern. No peanut butter. Not super rich. Only a little chocolate. But damn was it good. I'm not much of one for fruity cakes, but when I saw the pictures that went with this recipe I was sold. THAT was going to be my birthday cake.

I toyed with a number of options before picking this cake (such as german chocolate cheesecake, cookies and cream cheesecake, or even a classic coconut cake) and was still in deep debate when a couple of friends mentioned a cake that had blown their minds. Since they claimed it was the best thing they'd ever tasted I decided I had to go on a recipe hunt. Admittedly, I never found the cake they described (though I'm planning on attempting my own "mimic" in the near future), but I was quickly distracted by a similar idea that seemed promising.

Banana Split Cake. Let your mind wrap around that one for a moment. I picture a classic banana split having bananas (of course), vanilla ice cream, strawberry ice cream, chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce, maybe strawberry sauce, possibly pineapple sauce, loads of whipped cream, and of course a big red cherry on top. Banana splits are a bunch of different flavors going on all at the same time and translating this into a cake sounds like a feat so, naturally, I had to do it. I started sifting through recipes and found one that seemed perfect.

I am a sucker for presentation and this cake is stunning. At least I think so ;) Four layers of banana and pineapple laced cake cushioned by generous amounts of homemade whipped cream, strawberries, and chocolate ganache topped with yet more whipped cream, drizzled with chocolate, dusted with sprinkles and dotted with bright red maraschino cherries... this cake was practically begging to be made.

19th Birthday Cake!

The recipe is at http://www.howtoeatacupcake.net/2009/08/banana-split-birthday-cake-version-20.html. The recipe calls for three 8" cake pans... though the picture has two layers that were cut in half to make four. How that works out I don't really know, I only have 9" inch cake pans so I did the cut two layers in half route and felt pretty good about it.


I feel like I did over-bake the cake a little bit, it could have been a bit more moist and would recommend watching the cake closely after about 25 minutes ( I did 30 and I wish I would've done just a few minutes less). Also, I ran out of whipped cream :/ I had nearly covered the whole cake when I realized I was short on frosting. And no was I not going to pipe dollops around the edges.


So I made an extra 1/3 sized batch of whipped cream, though I think if you are careful about not putting too much between the cake layers you should be fine with what the recipe calls for. I also fudged the fruit a little bit... I added a little more than 2 cups of diced bananas (and still wished the cake would've had a stronger banana flavor!) and sweetened my strawberries a bit. I used probably 2 cups of sliced strawberries in all, to which I added about a tablespoon of sugar and let sit for about half an hour before using.


Great choice, especially since strawberries weren't in season. Final change, I had trouble with my chocolate ganache being thin enough to drizzle, so I dolloped it in the layers and used Hershey's chocolate syrup to make the top look pretty :D Kind of a cheat, but it worked!


Best of baking luck, this really isn't as difficult as it looks! Considering taste it wasn't my favorite cake, but it is definitely one of the best looking ones I have ever turned out. It was an excellent choice for a birthday cake and is a recipe I'm sure I'll use again :D

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Twas the Night Before Christmas

A few years ago, actually probably four or five, our family was contemplating what to make for dinner Christmas Eve. I don't know who came up with homemade pizzas (probably me ;) ) but the idea was genius and we've since made it a "tradition." Back then Boboli crusts and whatever brand of pizza sauce was on sale graced the kitchen counters, along with packages of pepperonis and Kraft mozzarella cheese. Though I'm sure the rest of my family would be perfectly content with their pre-packaged ingredient list, I can no longer bare to unwrap a pizza crust with a shelf life that defies the laws of natural food. Especially since I've discovered easy dough and sauce recipes that are so worth the effort.

I came across these recipes for the first time a little over a year ago when I had first started snooping around Smitten Kitchen. That evening a friend and I were hanging out and decided to make pizzas and watch Across the Universe. Great Movie. Great Pizza. Smitten Kitchen has yet to fail me.

First off, the recipes are here: http://smittenkitchen.com/2007/09/pizza-even-sweeter/. I actually used a different recipe for the crust this Christmas, but purely by mistake! I am a fan of whole grain breads all the way, even pizza crust, and recipes with a touch of honey in them are simply divine. I replaced half the flour in the crust recipe with whole grain flour and it was fantastic. Obviously I didn't use the same toppings as this recipe called for, each of us tops our pies with whatever sounds good that evening. Pepperoni is always around, last year we had some special sausage and a really good hunk of mozzarella, mine is usually struggling to support a garden's worth of vegetables... this year I'm treating myself to ricotta cheese and topping my pizza off with fresh spinach and slices of roma tomatoes!


The best part of pizza making is that it caters to all of us, a dinner option that doesn't happen very often. The rest of my family can load their designated crusts with whatever meats they so choose, and I... I can experiment with whatever I want :D My dad and brother usually have their own versions of meat lovers and my little sister has lately frequented pepperoni calzones.

Mom got creative this year and tried to mimic Puccini's "campfire" pizza. I think it had tomato sauce, Gorgonzola cheese, sausage, caramelized onions, and a few spices. I didn't snag a bite, but she seemed to like it.


And here's mine! Like I said before, ricotta, spinach, roma tomatoes... all on a thin whole wheat crust. So good!


These recipes really are delicious, and fairly easy (though maybe just a little time consuming). Making pizzas is also an excellent way to get the family to hang out together, have fun with friends, or even makes for a great date night ;) This is a fun one, I promise!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Cheesecake!

The first thing to come out of my reclaimed kitchen! And I think I started off on the right foot. Although I am planning on making paella (the one and only recommendation I've gotten so far!), I was seeing old friends today and couldn't help celebrating the occasion with a cheesecake.

Cheesecakes are probably my favorite dessert to make, and to eat ;) They are so incredibly rich and creamy... and they're like cookies, if you have the basic batter you can put virtually anything in them. This time around, by request, I picked one with homemade lemon curd!

Lemon Curd Swirl Cheesecake

This is actually a pretty basic cheesecake, buttery graham cracker crust and a sweet but tangy vanilla filling. The real kicker though is the bright lemon curd that someone so geniusly decided to swirl in. Lemon curd can be kind of scary, I admit, but it's easier than it looks and is definitely worth the effort. The two most important things to remember about making lemon curd are that 1) you should ALWAYS use real, fresh lemon zest and lemon juice. Meaning, no, don't buy bottled lemon juice, it should come from a real lemon, not one fashioned out of plastic. And 2) as long as the mixture's over heat, you should be stirring. If you don't whisk the ingredients as they cook you can end up with lemon flavored scrambled eggs. Gross.

The difference between cooking and baking is supposedly that cooking has more leeway for playing with ingredients. That may be true, but I tend to fudge any recipe ;) The lemon curd called for two teaspoon of lemon zest which I admittedly failed to measure, instead scraping as much as I could of my lemons. The more the merrier, right? I also doubled the crust recipe and would highly recommend doing the same. This gave me enough to have a substantial layer on the bottom and a pretty graham cracker edge around the sides.

I found this recipe on a blog I hadn't been to before, Anne Strawberry (http://annestrawberry.blogspot.com/search/label/Cheesecake). The picture of the cheesecake is gorgeous but the recipe didn't include the whipped cream that decorated the top! Any whipped cream recipe would do, I just beat some whipping cream until it was stiff enough to hold shape. You can use a piping bag to get creative with the presentation, just dollop cream wherever you so choose, or skip the whipped cream altogether (it really doesn't affect the taste). I love to pipe and purchase a whole set of tips over the summer so I went that route, but have failed to buy a real piping bag... so I use ziplocks as a stand-in and usually can't tell the difference ;).

Anyway, glad to be back, I've missed my kitchen and have got plenty more tricks up my sleeves for the next few weeks. Still plotting the paella I was told to make, turns out I need a really big pan so I have to get my hands on one of those and a really good recipe. We'll see what I come up with :D

Lemon Curd Swirl Cheesecake

Monday, December 14, 2009

Add to My "To Make" List!

Well hi. It's been a while. But without proper resources, and even less time, college just hasn't been kind enough to let me be a blogger. Despite the wonderful time I've had so far, the one thing college really seems to lack is a steady supply of delicious food. Sure, the restaurants here are fantastic, but I've been doomed too dining halls far too often and one of my biggest reasons for being excited about the semester ending is that I'll be spending four weeks with a kitchen and fully stocked refrigerator. Oh. Yes.

Needless to say winter break for me means fitting in as many cooking excursions as I can manage before classes start back up again. I've got a few things in mind... my next birthday cake ;), an avocado smoothie, gingerbread houses, peppermint ice cream, a couple soups, some breakfast experiments... but I figured before set pots to stoves and cookie sheets to oven racks I'd see if anyone has any recommendations.

I'm always looking for a good recipe and since I've been lead to believe that on occasion people do drop in to read my endless droning about this pastry or that stew, if you have anything you would be interested in seeing me attempt, let me know. Nothing to simple, I'm looking for a challenge. And by the way, someone might be getting a big beautiful bright red KitchenAid mixer for her birthday... so bring it ;).